Margaret Shields: I Am My Own Inspiration

Margaret Shields2I was 14 when I got my first job at a fast food restaurant. My parents divorced when I was really young. My mom was a drug addict and my dad was never really around. Living at home was hard. My mom would take my money for her drugs. My sister and brother were getting into trouble out on the streets. I had no other choice but to break ties with them, so I moved out when I was 16 years-old.

At the age of 20, I had my first boy and two years later I had my youngest son. My kids mean the world to me. I wanted to make sure they had a better upbringing than I did.  When they were young boys, my husband and I would take them to soccer and football practices. We knew that getting them involved in so many activities would help them stay motivated and off of the streets. No matter how much I had going on, I made sure to be there for my family.

 I’ve been working for O’Hare airport for 16 years. However, last year, 11 of my coworkers and I got unjustly fired. Around that time, my oldest son was starting college. I wanted to help him out in any way I could and be there for him in the way my parents weren’t. So, I fought to get my job back!

My coworkers and I supported each other and had each other’s backs. We knew we had to stand strong together to get our jobs backs.  What kept us together was that we always communicated with one another. If someone needed something they were just a phone call away. No one was ever left out.  

After 10 long months, we all got our jobs back! This was possible because we knew our rights and stood together. I was happy that I could once again help my family. And, just as important, I was also happy to realize through it all I gained a support system that I never had growing up. The union and my coworkers became my extended family.

Standing up with my coworkers to fight for our jobs helped me see that I could be a leader. I took a leave of absence (LOA) from my job to work full-time with the union. I want to make people stronger, so they know their rights at work. Being knowledgeable about your rights and your contract is empowering – I learned that when I lost my own job. I want to encourage people to support their coworkers and stand together, just like how my coworkers and I did when we were unjustly fired. Without their support I would have never learned that I am not alone. I now have the courage to ask for help when I need it. 

I am very proud of how far I have come in life. My kids are my proudest accomplishment. My oldest son attends Robert Morris University and wants to be a football coach. My youngest will be attending Chicago State University and wants to be a police officer. I was two steps ahead of my mom, and I always want my kids to be four or six steps ahead of me.